Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. drone assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani disrupted an imminent threat and “saved American lives.”
Speaking to CNN today, Pompeo did not elaborate on the nature of the threat other than to say “this was not just in Iraq” but were confined to the region. The airstrike killing Soleimani at Baghdad’s airport came two days after dozens of Iran-backed protesters demonstrating against Sunday airstrikes targeting Kataib Hezbollah weapons depots stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad.
“He was actively plotting in the region to take actions – a big action, as he described it, that would have put dozens if not hundreds of American lives at risk. We know it was imminent. This was an intelligence-based assessment that drove our decision-making process,” Pompeo said. “The American people also know the history of Qasem Soleimani, hundreds of American lives on his hands, too. He was involved in the Beirut bombings. He’d orchestrated an attack right here in Washington, D.C. It ultimately failed.”
Pompeo said that “the risk of doing nothing was enormous,” and “the intelligence community made that assessment” before President Trump ordered the strike.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued an alert today urging all Americans to “depart Iraq immediately.”
“U.S. citizens should depart via airline while possible, and failing that, to other countries via land,” the alert said. “Due to Iranian-backed militia attacks at the U.S. Embassy compound, all public consular operations are suspended until further notice. U.S. citizens should not approach the Embassy.”
Asked whether State Department personnel will also leave, Pompeo replied, “We constantly evaluate our personnel not only in Iraq but all across the region and across the world. Every day we’re evaluating what the right security posture is. We will ensure that we get it right.”
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised Soleimani as “an eminent example of a person trained in Islam” and vowed that “a #SevereRevenge awaits the criminals who have stained their hands with his & the other martyrs’ blood last night.”
Pompeo said the U.S. has “anticipated a wide range of possible responses and we have done our level best under the direct guidance of the president to prepare for all of those possibilities.”
The State Department said Pompeo spoke with his counterparts in China, Britain, Germany, France, Pakistan and Afghanistan today to discuss Soleimani’s death. French Secretary of State for European Affairs Amélie de Montchalin told a radio network that “we have woken up to a more dangerous world,” which Pompeo disputed on CNN.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang urged “the relevant sides, especially the United States, to remain calm and exercise restraint to avoid further escalating tensions.”